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All the plants

I am reluctant to admit that I am a restless person. Even more so when I spent >23 hours inside my apartment every single day. But the one time each day that I am guaranteed a little sunshine and the fresh air that eases the tension out of my shoulders is when I am watering my plants.

I love plants. I love learning their names and watching them grow. I love taking care of things and feeling like I’ve accomplished something tangible. I love the lightness and comfort they bring to any space they’re in.

However, I do not have a natural green thumb. As a teen and college student I struggled to keep plants from floundering. So when I moved into my first apartment, I set a goal: Learn to not kill plants.

And I did great! Over a year and a half, a couple of plants struggled, but most stayed content and a few even flourished. I kept a small stand out on the patio and others on the bookshelf by the window. When I moved into my new place, I planned to set up a tiered planter with herbs, and got the plants settled on the new patio and inside the apartment.

Except then I killed like six plants in a row. Air plants! Pothos! ZZ! All the plants that are supposed to be nigh impossible to kill. And it turns out, the inside of my apartment is apparently where plants come to die. Suffice it to say I was really disheartened. I’d worked diligently on getting better at caring for plants and then over the course of several months, I. Kept. On. Killing. Them. All the ones outside seemed to be doing well, but as near as I’ve been able to determine, most of my apartment is so low light that even the “low light” friendly plants will give up and die. Which means my patio has now become the garden. In the interest of saving money and also getting more plants(!) I’ve recently started propagating some basics as well: succulents, spider plants, and pothos. The new journey I just started is creating a large planter to grow tomatoes in (companion planted with some basil), because as much as I like pretty plants, I love being able to eat things I grew!

I’m still definitely a novice, but having something physical and really tangible to care for is so good for me. Since lots of folks are taking time to upgrade their green thumbs as well, I’ve included some tips that I’ve found helpful (or learned the hard way) as well as links to a few Instagram accounts by Black plant enthusiasts that I’ve really been enjoying lately.

What not to do:

  • Buy a plant you have zero idea how to take care of. I have done this, and on occasion I’ve gotten lucky and the plant has done well, but it’s a huge risk. Instead, do some online research before purchasing and/or ask for info about the plant from someone at your local nursery.
  • Overwatering. I’m determined this is the fastest way to kill a plant. And I suck at not doing it because I just want to smother the dang things with love. But seriously, it will kill them. Root rot in particular is super hard to come back from. For most plants (especially beginner plants), wait until you can dig your finger into the soil a little and it’s dry to water, then water thoroughly.
  • Ignore when your plant is trying to tell you something. They’re living creatures, and they’re more lively than we usually give them credit for. Plants will stretch if they need more sun, can burn or wither if they get too much sun, and will droop when they need water, then perk up when they’ve gotten it. If you’re noticing odd behavior in your plant, check the basics and then look it up!
  • Neglect pruning. I’m still learning this one, but if your plant has some dead or super damaged leaves, get rid of them! If they come off when you gently pull you can prune that way, or get a pair of sharp scissors/shears and trim.
    • You can also revive plants this way sometimes! I have a polka-dot plant that was hardcore struggling, so I just cut all the leggy stalks down to little nubs and now it’s grown so many new leaves and flourished!
  • Skip drainage holes. Lots of the pretty pots available don’t have good drainage, and that’s an easy way to drown your plant, or promote pests and rot. The best ways around this are to 1) buy a pot with appropriate drainage, 2) drill drainage holes, or 3) keep the plant in a properly drained pot for watering and then set that pot into another pretty pot for the rest of the time.
  • Repot until you need to. Every time a plant moves areas or is repotted, it can be shocked and needs time to adjust. Try to let a plant adjust to its new home when you purchase it before repotting, and only repot when the plant has gotten too big for its current pot or if there’s an issue with the soil (I had to repot one recently because I’d overwatered and didn’t want the roots to rot).

What to actually do:

  • Research your plants. Not everything that says it’s easy is actually easy, depending on both your experience and your setting. Learn what areas of your home have what kinds of light, pay attention to the temperature and humidity, and choose plants that are well-suited for the environment you’ll be brining them into. Also shop local whenever you can, not only to support local businesses, but because folks at local nurseries will know what grows well in your area!
  • Water in the morning. This isn’t crucial, but most plants prefer it as it lets them soak up what they need before the sun is at its strongest.
  • Get the right tools. My little garden doesn’t need much, but I’ve found that the following are indispensable:
    • Watering can and spray bottle
    • Small, sharp pruning shears
    • Something to kneel on while you work (I use a folded beach towel, but you can also get a gardening mat)
    • Pest deterrents. I occasionally buy ladybugs, and frequently use an organic Neem Oil spray to discourage pests
    • Rubber-tipped bamboo gloves
    • A set of plastic bowls for moving soil around as I repot
    • Spare pots (they’re really handy! And save those nursery ones you move plants out of!)

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  • Start with plants you can handle. My favorite starters are spider plants and pothos, but these are the types of plants I currently have:
    • Succulents (including aloe vera, burro’s tail, and lots of others I can’t name)
    • Pothos (one of my favorites to propagate)
    • Spider plants. I literally don’t think I’ve ever killed one, which is saying something.
    • Marimo moss ball. This is the tank of “plants” (it’s technically an algae), though it’s not very exciting.
    • Polka-dot plant
    • Snake plant
    • Herbs, including:
      • Mint
      • Basil
      • Oregano
      • Rosemary
    • Spinach**
    • Green beans**
    • Tomatoes*
    • Marigolds**
    • Note: For all the ones with an asterisk (*), these are new and very young so I’m still getting my footing in terms of caring for them. The ones with two asterisks I planted from seed.
  • Shop around for good prices. A little research on good plant shops and average prices for certain plants will go a long way — you don’t want to pay more than you have to! (@grownbyliz._ has an affordable plant shop as well as good info on other affordable places.) I buy my basil every year from Trader Joe’s for like $4, and local nurseries can often have some good deals!
  • Move plants around as needed. I’ve reorganized the garden a couple of times in the last few months because things were getting too much or not enough light, and that can often
  • Be willing to experiment. I tried to grow garlic in one of my planter boxes a while ago and it shot up before immediately dying. Oh well! Especially if you’re trying with inexpensive plants, it’s okay to take a few risks.
  • Be okay if a plant dies. I’ve killed a number of plants in the last year, and honestly it just happens sometimes. Some plants also won’t last forever! Basil is the kind of plant that typically won’t last through the winter, so I just go into each year knowing I’ll need to buy more the following spring.

Also a necessary shoutout to my best friend Megan, for enabling my plant journey, always giving me tips (including the accounts I recommended above), and also giving me plants haha.

What plants do you love? Any questions about caring for plants or gardening for beginners? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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For the long haul

One set of parents reached a milestone anniversary this week, and after sheltering in place with my husband for more than 2 months, it seemed like time for a relationship post. I am of course not an expert in anyone’s relationship but my own, so take all advice with the appropriate grain of salt, but we have been together almost 7 years and I’ve been fortunate to observe successful relationships that have lasted even longer.

Invest in the other person’s interests. I am not a video games person, but can keep up in conversation about way more games than I would ever be willing to play because I talk to my significant other about their interests, and actually listen and ask questions. If it’s a hobby you’re not interested in doing, it still means a lot that you listen and engage when they want to talk about it or show you something. And this can extend beyond conversation as well. For example, I’ve found a couple of video games that I like, so sometimes we’ll just sit next to each other and talk while we each play our own game. Jump into a TV show the other person enjoys, find a sport you can play together, get super into puzzles. Whatever floats your boat together!

Keep your own interests, and set aside time to not be together. I don’t love guitar the way my spouse does, and he isn’t super into crocheting like I am. We make time most days to do things that we individually want to do and make an effort to make room for each person to have individual plans. This is especially important with friends! It’s awesome if you have a lot of mutual friends, but it’s important that you each have friends you can hang out with without your significant other. Be consistent with other people in your life too.

Find ways to surprise each other. We’ve been together for almost 7 years, and friends for almost a decade, so often it feels like we know almost everything there is to know about the other. But to his credit, this guy still manages to surprise me. The best part is that surprises don’t have to be big to be special; getting off work a little early or picking up a treat they love at the grocery store can be super meaningful simply because it reflects that you’re thinking about each other and wanting to put in effort to show that you care.

Learn how to be mad, and how to make up. Quarantine is challenging even for folks who get along great, and some tension is both inevitable and — depending on how you respond to it — healthy. Like most people, we’ve had a few spats when cooped up in the house for long stretches, and then we talk it through and figure out how to do better next time. I cannot stress how important it has been for us to articulate why we’re upset and how we feel without picking a fight or going after the other person. It doesn’t make conflict magically go away, it just means we can take down our defenses for long enough to work out a solution together. And then when we figure out what we can do better in the future, actually detailing how we intend to do that helps us stick to the plan instead of falling back into the same cycle.

Be affectionate! It’s great when folks in long-term relationships are super comfortable and don’t need to be touchy-feely all the time (especially if you’re around other people), but super simple stuff like holding hands or a smile from across the room can make things feel so much sweeter. It helps the other person feel seen and loved, and especially in a time when a bunch of us are isolated, positive* physical touch is really beneficial for our emotional and mental health.

If you think something nice about the other person, say it. This seems silly, but can make a big difference. If you catch yourself thinking something complimentary, tell them that instead of tucking it away. As well as you might know each other, no one is a mind reader. Out-of-the-blue compliments can make someone’s day, which is obviously even better when it’s someone you care about.

For more relationships info, check out this post on relationships or this post on being long distance. Obviously nothing I covered here is fully comprehensive, but I hope there was something you found helpful. And if you’re not in a romantic relationship, honestly most of this applies to friendships too!

Anything I missed? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

* Positive physical touch meaning touch that is wanted in that moment, welcome, and pleasant rather than painful. Consent is obviously important, but also good to remember that giving your partner a tight hug if they’ve got an injury might not be the way to go.

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The unicorn skill

Work has been absolutely grueling recently. A short staff and big upcoming deadlines have meant that I’ve been getting into the office at 6 a.m., working weekends, and falling asleep on the couch right after dinner. That has also been the primary reason that blog posts haven’t been regular (sorry!).

Because my job has been a trial by fire, I’ve also had a crash course in imposter syndrome and a chance to hone my skill of being able to quickly make up for resources I don’t have.

Enter the unicorn skill. I now act as the team lead for a small number of colleagues, and am part of the interview process to fill more positions. If there is one thing that I dearly want to improve myself and see fellow emerging adults improve at, it is the ability to figure sh*t out.

I have long since given up counting how many problems or questions I face per day that I don’t know the answer to. Sometimes it’s helping a coworker with a task, sometimes it’s diving into an assignment with minimal training, sometimes it’s digging up resources on topics that aren’t clear.

The trick is that there is no way to ever completely master this skill, but it is crucial to succeeding both in many professional roles and when figuring out this whole adulting thing.

Know what you don’t know. There is no such thing as being overprepared; however, you will much more often find yourself accidentally underprepared. If that underpreparedness is your fault, figure out how to fix it for next time, but sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid it. If you can identify the key elements of the problem that you don’t know/have, then you’ll know exactly what to look for.

Own what you do know. What do you already know about the topic or task? Is it similar to something you’ve encountered before? Don’t sell yourself short when it comes to experience. For example, I just wrapped up a project at work updating a big product catalog. It wasn’t something I had done before in this capacity, but having spent most of high school and college doing yearbook and then student journalism, I knew the bones of the process were the same. I knew how to work backwards from a deadline, brushed off some InDesign skills, and made it happen. Anything you’ve done in the past that you think could help probably will.

Dig first, and dig well. Google is your friend, as are any other resources at your disposal. When I’m asked a question I don’t have the answer for at work, I go digging — through our files and management systems, through emails, through our website, and then through some thoughtful keyword Google searches. Often, I find the answer within a few minutes. Even if I don’t, I usually get more information or a clearer picture of what’s missing.

I cannot tell you how many times someone has messaged me a question, and then figured it out on their own before I’m able to respond a couple minutes later (of course, I’ve done the same too many times). The moral: don’t. Learn how to use what’s at your disposal to help you when the answer isn’t obvious.

On the other hand, know when it’s time to ask for help. There comes a time when you’re wasting your time by continuing to search alone if someone else could either 1) provide the answer, or 2) assist you in the search. Once you’ve done the legwork to make asking for help as useful and easy as possible for the person you’re asking, being able to ask is important. It’s not an admission of failure or incompetence to ask someone with more expertise or resources for support.

We’re all in the same boat. Figuring things out on the fly is a skill that I think we all need, and which most of us are forced to develop at some point. Remember that it’s always someone’s first rodeo, and it’s likely that anyone you’re working with also wants a good outcome from the task. Imposter syndrome has a habit of making you feel like you’re the only one who is underprepared, and everyone else has it all figured out, when that is a bold-faced lie. None of the rest of us know what we’re doing either — we’re just working on knowing a little more some of the time.

What’s your favorite tool when you feel underprepared? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

(Photo is a free stock photo because I’m busy, y’all.)

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(Being good at) solo travel

Last weekend I was up in the Portland area for a dear friend’s wedding, and got the chance to spend the better part of two days exploring a city I’d never been to before. The more that I saw and did, the more I thought about how grateful I am that I know how to travel alone.

There are, of course, some caveats. Being female, I have to be more careful and conscientious of potential safety risks than men often need to be, and that does tamper some of the brazenly adventurous spirit that I sometimes slip into. I’ve also done almost all of my solo travel in cities for the simple reason that there is lots to see in a small radius, and it’s easier to get around by oneself with fewer resources. My hometown necessitates a car; my favorite cities do not. Lastly, as much as I love traveling alone I don’t always prefer it — nothing can replace the joy of sharing new experiences with other people.

However, I am super glad that I’ve learned how to enjoy independent travel. Some of it is inherent to my personality. I’m pretty introverted, and actually like being anonymous in a big crowd. I am sometimes fiercely independent, and it gives me a joyous opportunity to report to no one and do, basically, whatever I want. Sometimes I’ve traveled alone for the simple reason of not letting other people stop me from seeing things I wanted to see. My parents also did a phenomenal job setting me up to travel well, from teaching me the right balance of enjoying being a tourist to paying attention to the locals, showing me how to make good use of public transportation, and reminding me that there’s always more to explore.

But not everyone has had the same opportunities. I started flying alone at 16, and started exploring cities on my own at 18. But I’ve only recently realized that it’s a skill not as many emerging adults have as I’d previously thought.

So here are some of the things that have helped me the most when traveling solo. (Note that I’m going to skip most general safety measures because most of us have had it drilled into our heads and that’s not where the adventure lies, but of course, prioritize your safety at all times.)

Figure out your tech. When I was in Portland this weekend, Google Maps was my best friend. But I didn’t want to use the data when I was in London, so I had a super handy pocket map of the city that I used to navigate me basically anywhere I needed to go. In Washington, DC, it was a mix of both. I always keep a portable charger (and often my phone charger) with me if I’m going to be out for a whole day. Your tech can be next-gen or analog, just make sure whatever you have will serve your purposes.

Find your ride. This becomes pretty city-specific, but look into what the transportation options are in any city you go to. My best friend gave me a heads up that Portland’s bus system is really convenient, and it cut my transportation costs within the city to $10.50 over 2 days (yes, you read that right). I’m really used to subways and trains, and you can always grab a cab or Lyft if needed.

That being said, you will see more if you walk. I love my mom. She’s great. But she also made me walk miles of San Francisco hills at a young age. Like I didn’t even know you could get a cab easily amount of walking. Now, if I’m exploring a place by myself I have no problem walking 5 to 7 miles in a day. Maybe that means building up your stamina before you go, maybe it means knowing when to walk and when to catch a ride. Most of the time, my rule of thumb is to walk if it’s less than a mile between destinations unless I’m on a time crunch.

Ask for recs. You will be by yourself, and yes the internet is helpful, but ask some friends or family for some of their favorite things to do/see/eat in the place you’ll be going to. I only found out about one of my favorite stops in Athens because I’d asked an old friend for stuff she loved in the city (the Benaki Museum, in case you were wondering). My friends who got married this weekend put a ton of cool stuff on their website that I was able to use to guide my trip planning. People know good stuff — pick their brains for it.

Pick out some must-sees. I tend to center solo trips on one or two things that I can’t miss. In LA, it was a killer Cuban restaurant and Griffith Observatory, both of which I’d been meaning to go to for ages. DC was the National Archives and Air & Space Museum. Portland was Powell’s Books and Washington Park. This provides a few benefits. One, you get to actually make time for the things you’re most excited about. Two, it provides geographical touchpoints that you can plan the rest of your travel around. Knowing that I wanted to see those two things in Portland meant that I not only planned out transportation between them, but that I focused my research on other experiences (mostly food, if we’re being honest) to close by those high-priority items.

Do your research. Things I always research ahead of time: transportation (and where I’m staying if that isn’t already handled), must-sees, some good restaurants, and often a short list of other items of interest. I might not use all of it, but then I have the info and I don’t get overwhelmed by the newness of everything at once. I also tend to save info either as emails to myself or notes on my phone, but do whatever system works best for you.

And know when to not have a plan. This is one of my favorite things about traveling, because while in most of life I hate not having a plan, when traveling it can add to the adventure. Of course the broad strokes are planned, but I make sure to leave room for detours, and lately have started building in time — often toward the end of a trip — that is quite literally meant for whatever I didn’t already get to do. If I actually did everything I wanted, I allow myself to visit a place again or even take a nap. The point is giving yourself the freedom to take your time and not be stuck in a strict schedule.

Bonus tips:

  • Ride public transportation like a local. Stay on the quieter side, bring a book, know your stop, and for goodness sake hold on. And of course, feel free to ask if you do need directions.
  • Have cash and card. A lot of cool, hole-in-the-wall places only take or prefer cash, and some places are now moving to card-only. Be prepared.
  • Tell someone you trust where you are. This is the one safety tip I will give, because it probably gives me the most reassurance. When traveling alone, I make sure someone knows my plan for the day, and periodically check in with where I am. Usually that just means sending a picture of something cool, but it’s also for safety.
  • Store your bag. I just found out about this one during my last trip, but if you’re not staying in a hotel you can store your bag for a while through services like Bagbnb (the one I used) or Vertoe for like $6 a day. If you’re staying at a hotel, they’ll usually hold your bag before and after you check out if you ask (it is best to leave a tip). If you’re really in a pickle and not staying at a hotel, you can always ask if they’ll store your bag, and offer a really good tip.
  • Balance paid with free, or at least inexpensive. I am not made of money. Most emerging adults aren’t. And the thing about solo travel is you can’t split the cost with friends. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid paid stuff — and you’ll have to pay to eat — but for every paid thing you do, have a couple options of free things as well. Last Sunday I spent half a day checking out tons of stuff in Washington Park, and only spent money on one entrance fee (to the Japanese Garden, which is absolutely worth it). Plus a lot of the best places to eat aren’t expensive!

What are your favorite solo travel tips? Hidden gems in cities you’ve been to? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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How to train yourself out of a short attention span

I don’t usually go for such clickbaity titles, but it seems like this skill is something we could all use a little more of. I know that both at work and at home, I’ve had noticeable trouble paying attention to just one thing for any significant length of time, and that the problem has gotten worse as I’ve shifted into emerging adulthood.

Not that I had some insanely impressive attention span as a kid, but if it was something that mattered (either directly or indirectly), I could usually gather up the will to focus on it until it was done or I judged it time to move onto something else. (Note that this wasn’t always the case early on in project deadlines, but procrastination is a whole other issue.)

In college, it was a little tougher, in part because there were so many things to be juggling and my schedule was constantly shifting not just between semesters, but from day to day and week to week. So I often brushed off any problems focusing with being tired or lacking routine, and I assumed it would get easier once I had some steadiness post-college. Of course, life circumstances that could be called steady took a while to achieve — like a lot of recent grads, I moved back home and worked part-time. Then I moved to a new area with a new job. Then I changed jobs and moved again. Whew.

I’ve been in my new jobs and new digs for several months now, but I still find myself often struggling to focus for long stretches of time, or even to devote myself entirely to a single task for a shorter amount of time. And frankly, it’s annoying as heck.

So what to do about it?

First things first, I had to stop making excuses. Sometimes I really am tired or the thing I’m working on is just super boring, and that genuinely is the main cause of my inattention. But that’s rarely the whole reason. And that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be taking steps to address it. (Super important note there that while all the stuff I mention below can help, prolonged or increasing issues with focus may be part of another issue like ADD or ADHD. If you think that might be you, definitely talk to a doctor and/or psychriatrist.)

Give yourself breaks, but make sure they’re structured. I have a bad habit of looking at my phone whenever I reach a pause in concentration, and guess what? It literally makes my problem worse. One recommendation is to use the 25-5 approach, where you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break (the times can be adjusted based on personal need, but this number seems to work well for a lot of people). The trick is confining breaks to that time, and then when it’s time for a break fully embracing the distraction.

Get off your phone. I absolutely hate being told to do this, most connective electronics (phones, computers) are quite literally filled with stuff meant to distract us from whatever else we’re doing. The internet is never-ending, and social media and video games offer little dopamine hits every time we use them, which then trains our brains to want more, and it becomes harder to stay away from them when we should be focusing on something else. I often put my phone face down out of arm’s reach (and my line of sight), or even on do not disturb, to make it feel less easily accessible. I also have all notifications that aren’t text, calls, or email turned off.

Stop multitasking. Unless I’m doing something truly mindless, I’ve been trying to avoid multitasking. As much as we like to boast about it, humans actually aren’t that great at multitasking precisely because our divided attention means we often miss crucial elements of one or both tasks. So I might listen to a podcast doing simple edits on a document, or plan the grocery list while I drive home, but once it’s time to pay attention I just go one thing at a time.

Pay attention to your body. If you’re hungry, thirsty, exhausted, or even the wrong temperature, focusing is naturally going to be more of a challenge. Make sure you have snacks and water available, and adjust your temperature surroundings if you can. I find all of these help me feel less tired, but if I’m truly falling asleep at my computer I’ll use my short break mentioned above (I actually do 7-9 minutes in this case) for a power nap.

Find a change of scenery. Often when I’m struggling to focus, moving to a different spot in the office or my house will reset whatever was stuck in my brain, and then I don’t move from that spot (or at least back to my original spot) until the task is done.

On that note, just move around. A couple minutes of walking or a few quick stretches can settle your body enough to focus more readily on a non-physical task. Exercising daily or at least a couple times a week also seems to be linked to better focus long-term.

Alternate the types of tasks you’re doing. I find that I feel bored less readily if the kinds of things I’m doing don’t all feel the same. For example, at home I’ll sit down to do the budget, then get up and clean the kitchen, alternating mental/stationary and more physical chores so it feels kind of like I’m getting a break even when it’s just to do another task.

Read a dang book. Or a long internet article. Or listen to an audiobook. I am fully aware that I have preached the virtues of reading many a time on this blog, and I am not sorry. One of the things that finally motivated me to work on my attention span is the fact I couldn’t get through even a chapter of a book in one sitting, let alone huge chunks like I used to. I’ve been extra intentional about making time to read lately, and I’ve noticed a correlation with my (slightly) improved focus.

Meditate. I am awful at being consistent about this, but meditation has been demonstrated to significantly help concentration. I have an app called Headspace that I like a lot for short meditations, and one of the podcasts I love releases semi-regular meditations as well. But you can also find lots of free options that offer everything from 1-minute to hour-plus meditations.

Sometimes, it’s also okay to just admit that you’re having a tough time focusing, and not be hard on yourself for it. We’ve all got a lot going on, and the world we live in doesn’t make it any easier to slow down and just pay attention to one thing.

What has helped you focus better? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo honestly because that’s all I had time for.)

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Beat the heat

I live in California, and in case you don’t live here (and haven’t been hearing us complain), it’s been rather warm lately.

I’m not stranger to hot temps — like my high school graduation legit got cancelled halfway through because it was too hot — but that doesn’t mean I like it. I’m also prone to heat stroke, so staying cool has higher stakes than avoiding sweat stains.

On a hot day in my old apartment, we’d just turn on the A/C to a manageable (read: affordable) temperature, and hope for the best. But my new place doesn’t have A/C, so I was a little nervous going into this heat wave. A bit of luck: My place is downstairs and really well-insulated, so it has a few advantages in terms of staying cool.

But emerging adulthood is about learning to take care of ourselves, often without all the resources we had growing up. So just in case you’re stuck in a summer heat wave, here are the things I’ve found most helpful when it comes to avoiding high temps.

Indooooooors (cue SpongeBob meme):

  • Close all your blinds, and keep them that way while the sun’s out. This isn’t my favorite if the weather’s nice because I don’t want to feel like I’m in a cave, but sunlight streaming in through windows is the fastest way to heat up a home, and makes it hard to get it cool again.
  • At night, open up. As soon as the temp outside drops below what it’s at inside, open up windows and shoot for a cross-breeze (if it’s stuffy in your place you can also open up when it’s a couple degrees warmer outside — the fresh air will be more noticeable than those few degrees). If it’s safe, you can leave the windows open overnight and close them as soon as you wake up.
  • Level up your fan. Fans are great, we know this. But if you don’t have A/C and are truly desperate, go to the store and buy a solid block of ice for a few bucks (or make one if your freezer has space). Plop it in a small plastic tub and put it in front of the fan. Hello, homemade A/C.
  • Turn off stuff that heats up the air. Logical, I know. But avoiding hot showers, running the oven, or even too much tech can help keep indoor temps from rising too quickly.

Outdoors:

  • That same fan thing, if you’ve got an outlet. Seriously, don’t knock it. (Misters are also great!)
  • Spend as much time in the shade as you do in the sun. And try to alternate time in shade vs. sun, as well as moving vs. being more still.
  • Wear loose clothes and light colors. They absorb less light, and touch you less. Cool? Cool.
  • Go swimming. But you knew this one.
  • Or you could just, y’know, go inside.

Your body is a heat source:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This is seriously the best way to avoid heat stroke and generally overheating. If you can hack it, go for cool water instead of cold because then your body won’t expend energy heating it up (and therefore heating you up).
  • Sit down. Not kidding. Even the energy that your body spends balancing, tensing muscles, etc. when you’re standing up is not helping the situation. And if you’re at all overheated, feeling lightheaded, or sick, sit immediately and tell a friend. More info on that here.
  • Splash water. Note that doing this on your face, neck, wrists, and ankles will be especially cooling as the water evaporates and air moves over your skin.
  • If you can’t minimize clothing, get your clothes wet. Obviously only some circumstances allow for this, but it will help cool you off so quickly, especially since most clothes dry much more slowly than we do.

How do you keep the summer heat at bay? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because I am not going outside right now to get that pic.)

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How to keep your dang house clean

[First, a quick announcement. I am officially moving post days to Thursdays because apparently that is now what works better for my schedule. Ta da, Thursdays!]

We’re all adults here. I’m going to assume you know how to use a vacuum and do your laundry. I’ll be gracious enough to assume you know how to complete most household cleaning. My parents made sure that I did before I left for college, and for the new or more specific things I’ve encountered, Google or a quick call home have served me well.

The thing I really had no way of knowing until I moved into my own apartment, though, was how often each type of cleaning needed to be done. I know how often my mom asked me to do stuff back home, but different living spaces get dirty differently. So, if you’ll forgive the pun, here’s the quick and dirty on how to keep your living space clean.

The “gotta start somewhere” clean

Also known as this is so overwhelming or I am exhausted but must get one responsible adult thing done before digging into the ice cream.

  • Make your bed
  • Put away any clean laundry, and toss what’s dirty in the hamper
  • Clean off tabletops and countertops, or at least put the junk in organized piles
  • Do the dishes
  • Take out the trash
  • Open and window and/or light a candle

The key here is creating a clean visual palette. Even though you didn’t physically clean very much, this dramatically reduces visual (and olfactory!) clutter, and is the fastest way to feel like you’ve got a freshened space.

The “mother-in-law” clean

My actual mother coined this one, but basically it’s how clean your place should be to have guests over.

  • All of the above, plus:
  • Sweep and/or vacuum all floors. (Pro tip: Move your furniture at least every other time you do this so you’re actually getting all the dust, hair, and other gunk chilling on your floor.)
  • Wipe down all tables and countertops. For wood, use a wet cloth and then immediately dry the surface. For tile or laminate, 409 is my favorite because it cleans and disinfects without being too harsh or toxic. For granite, use 409 and then a granite cleaner.
  • I’ve tried some different options, but a microfiber or otherwise fuzzy, dry cloth gently wiped over basically any horizontal surface is the most effective method.
  • Thoroughly wipe down the stove with 409 or soap and water, until it is sparkling clean and entirely residue-free. (Pro tip: For dark/stainless steel stovetops or other kitchen appliances, finish up with a little glass cleaner to avoid streaks.)
  • After you do the dishes, scrub the sink. Your dishes will not be clean if you do not wash the sink fairly often.
  • Wipe down cabinets, doorknobs, and other frequently touched surfaces. 409 or Clorox wipes are usually my preference.
  • Clean the bathroom properly. Scrub the inside of the toilet (pour in some toilet cleaner, let it soak for 10ish minutes, then scrub) and wipe down the outside — including under the seat, because ew. Scrub and rinse the shower with 409 or Scrubbing Bubbles. Do the countertops if you haven’t already. Clean the mirror with paper towels and a good glass cleaner (this one’s my favorite).

The “how did dirt even get there” clean

Also known as the deep clean, the spring clean, the once in a while but very necessary clean.

  • All of the above (yes, both lists), plus:
  • Mop. I hate mopping. It might be my least favorite chore. But we scrub everything else, we gotta do the floors too. (And tools like the Swiffer wet jet make it easier.)
  • Wash the windows. You don’t have to be intense about this if it doesn’t deeply matter to you, but at least be intentional with some glass cleaner and paper towels.
  • Clean under and around your stove. If you can get in between it and the counters, do that. Many electric stovetops actually lift up, so be sure to clean under there as well.
  • Polish any wood furniture by rubbing it down with Old English, followed by a soft cloth and plenty of time to dry.
  • Scrub the walls. Yes, I am serious. Yes, I do this every few months. You don’t have to get every square inch, but dude they get gross. Especially important in bathrooms, kitchens, and dining areas, take a Clorox wipe or cloth with a little soap and water and wipe down as much as you can in the 2-to-5-foot height zone — lower if you have pets or kids. Get realllllllly close to the walls. See the gunk. Clean the gunk. (This also means wiping down baseboards!)
  • Get in around your shower (or any other place in the bathroom that isn’t the same color it used to be), and scrub aggressively with a toothbrush, a little Soft Scrub, and a splash of water. At my old apartment mold built up kind of quickly in the shower, and this took care of it better than anything. Also works great for the kitchen sink!
  • If you can, clean any vents or filters (including those under and behind your fridge). This helps increase electricity efficiency as well as heating and cooling effectiveness, plus keeps your air quality from getting gross.
  • Clean your trash cans. Bet you forgot about that one. Think of all the stuff that thing touches. It should really get cleaned now and again.
  • Wash your comforters, mattress covers, and pillows. Admittedly, I’m not the best about this one, but it is important!
  • Purge your stuff. This is not traditional cleaning, but it makes a big difference in giving your space a fresh start.

I love having a clean space, but I do not love cleaning. But if I can see dirt I can’t go very long without doing something about it. You may not notice it, or the place you’re living may hide it well (for example, the tan speckled countertops at my new apartment hide dirt way better than the white tile at my old place). But it is still there, and sadly still needs to be cleaned.

Don’t feel bad if spot cleanings have to get you by until you’re able to do a more thorough cleaning, but also don’t do the gnarly college student thing and just let grossness pile up. This is your home, and you are an adult. Even though it’s a chore, you should get to enjoy that.

What did I miss? What are your favorite cleaning tips? Let me know in a comment below or in Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(P.S. Usual disclaimer that I don’t get anything for mentioning or linking to specific products, I just mention them because I’ve used them for years and actually stand by how much I like them.)

(Photo is a free stock photo because taking a picture of me cleaning seems weird?)

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Growing a green thumb

I am, um, not a natural when it comes to plants. But I absolutely love them, so when I moved out I started making a concerted effort toward learning how to properly care for them.

I started really simple with a few air plants plus a couple of succulents I already had. The rule was that if I could keep a new plant alive (and relatively healthy) for 3 months, then I could get another one. This plan has been mostly successful, and I now have a small collection at my apartment, mostly on the patio where they get good sunlight.

As I’ve gotten more plants, I’ve also slowly escalated the level of skill needed to care for them. (And I do mean slowly.) This leveling-up has been:

  • Air plants
  • Succulents
  • Polka-dot plant
  • Spider plant
  • Aloe
  • Pothos
  • Basil (I’ll be adding more herbs very soon)

Moving and unpredictable weather have made it tough for a couple of these guys, but so far they’re hanging on. And while I aspire to have the sort of green thumb that would mean plants enjoy me as much as I enjoy them, I also fully admit we’re not there yet.

Throughout this process I have picked up some handy tips for helping our little green friends survive, and hopefully thrive:

Start small. As in don’t get a physically huge plant, and don’t get something super complicated. Pretty much everything I listed above is good for a beginner (except maybe basil), and are easily available in manageable, apartment-friendly sizes. Pro tip: Don’t start with seeds or sprouts either, as this portion of a plant’s growth cycle is particularly delicate. Pick a plant buddy who’s already established some roots.)

Do your research. Know what you want from a plant (air quality, foliage, flowers, etc.) and know the kind of environment you’ll be bringing it into (light level, humidity, temperature, etc.). Once you know those things, a few Google searches should bring up some suitable options.

Keep it natural. Whenever possible, design a plant’s environment to reflect its native environment (e.g. cactus-style potting mix for succulents or aloes; bright, indirect light for air plants; soft, but well-draining soil for basil). If you’re putting a lot of plants outside, or especially planting them in the actual ground where they may spread, try to choose plants native to your area. Not only will they grow better, but it’s more environmentally friendly! (Also stuff that encourages bees and butterflies, as their populations needs to be encouraged wherever possible.)

Water when dry. Seriously, it’s usually that simple. The best advice I’ve gotten on plant care is to wait to water until your plant’s soil is dry, and then give it a thorough watering. Overwatering a plant is often even more dangerous to a plant than under-watering, because it’s more difficult to fix. Pro tip: With air plants, I find that they do best when soaked for an hour or so about once a week in water, ideally with a bit of bromeliad fertilizer.

Go slowly with change. If a plant isn’t doing great, don’t make a ton of changes at once. For starters, it can shock the plant and further risk its health. Second, because plants can’t talk they can’t tell you what’s wrong. If you change a ton of elements at once, you may still not figure out what your buddy needs. Try making small changes, such as more or less light, one at a time. Give your plant some time with that change, and if it still isn’t happy try making another shift.

Trim as needed. If your plant has a dead or dying leaf, feel free to (gently) pull or cut it off. Often plants will devote extra water and nutrients to those leaves, which can hurt the health of other leaves.

Ask the experts. Feel free to swing by your local plant nursery and ask them about plants you have or are interested in getting. They can usually offer care tips, and can recommend what options might be best for your life and environment. One nursery near me even offers free classes on different gardening topics, which I’d highly recommend if you can find in your area.

And finally, the two types of plants I’ve loved having the most so far: air plants and pothos. Air plants are really fun and require minimal care, not even needing soil. They make really cool décor elements, and though they grow slowly it’s fun to see them flourish. Pothos are great for improving air quality and seriously love almost any light you give them — the one in the picture above has grown exceptionally well in my office. And if you do it right, they’re supposed to be easy to propagate! (I have not yet been brave enough to try.)

What are your best plant care tips? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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How to survive building IKEA furniture

A rite of passage in emerging adulthood is the relationship (and independence) test of building IKEA furniture. Or navigating an unfamiliar city, or otherwise following directions and figuring stuff out. Over the weekend, my fiancé and I went to IKEA. As much fun as it is to wander the aisles, the critical part comes a ways after when you actually have to assemble the dang things.

The upside is that I both like, and am good at, building things. Like I have two fully stocked toolboxes and really miss high school woodshop. But one person being good at something does not make it a successful team effort. I’m really grateful that my fiancé and I don’t have a difficult time trusting each other and working together on a project like that, but we found it funny how many people joked (or half-joked) about the struggle of not only assembling IKEA furniture but doing it with their partner.

Here’s the thing. Being able to interpret and follow directions is a really crucial skill, and one that should be developed long before adulthood. But some people seem to let those skills slide as soon as the stakes get raised a little — even if that’s only building a bookcase or finding their way around a new place.

When I went to Europe last fall, I hadn’t been to any of the cities we visited before. My fiancé had, but it had been years. Neither of us is bad with directions, but we still get turned around now and then. But rather than freaking out over any possible wrong step or something taking longer than anticipated, we reasoned through it, listened to each other’s input, and didn’t put too much pressure on it. Sure, we accidentally took a couple of scenic routes in those cities, and I had to go back and fix how I installed a hinge on a piece of furniture this weekend when I thought I was nearly done.

The lesson here is simple, and applies to independence as well as teamwork. Be informed, think it through, and don’t take it too seriously — most mistakes can be fixed, and even if they can’t they can be laughed at and learned from. If you’re working with them, be sure to communicate a little extra, and extend a little grace to yourself and them.

I wish I was better at applying the lesson in other areas of my life, but for now at least I know I can build furniture. Comments? Questions? Sage life advice? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

P.S. Pro tip for building IKEA furniture: Have a few sizes of Philips and flathead screwdrivers, plus a hammer or small mallet before you start building. Read the instructions as carefully as possible before completing a step, and keep checking for that things look the way they’re supposed to along the way.

P.P.S. Pro tip for navigating new cities: PopOut Maps are seriously my best friend. They’re super useful with a couple of different views for each city, but small enough that you can 1) take them with you, and 2) use them without looking like a ridiculous tourist.

(Photo is a free stock photo because the aesthetic is nicer than random pieces of IKEA particle board.)

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Deserve is not a dirty word

Ooh, this can be a touchy one. I don’t know what your thoughts (or perhaps more importantly, feelings) about the word “deserve” are, but mine are… complicated. Thankfully, my parents made sure I wasn’t allowed to grow up entitled, and they placed a lot more emphasis on ideas like “earn” than deserve. But I naturally have a strong sense of duty and an unhealthy bend toward perfectionism, which means sometimes I take that too far.

When I say perfectionism I don’t mean the annoying job interview thing where you say, “Oh, I just can’t stop until I’ve gotten things just right.” I mean the nagging, overthinking sort of perfectionism that sparks worry and thought spirals of everything that could go wrong if I don’t do literally everything perfectly. (If you’ve ever seen The Good Place, Chidi is a prime example.)

Add all that in to the negative messages society and companies are throwing at us all day long that we’re not good enough on our own, that we always need something, and it’s a bit of a mess. As a result, I let myself spend a lot of years thinking that if I said I “deserved” anything I was being selfish or arrogant.

But that’s simply not true. I deserve quite a lot of good things.

Of course, I don’t deserve every good thing under the sun. I can’t have anything I want period, let alone just because I want it. But there’s a lot of room between that level of entitlement and doubting I even deserve the space I take up or the love friends and family give. And it takes a developed sense of discernment to know where the line is, but it’s a really important part of being not just an adult, but an emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy person.

I am just as prone to flaws and bad decisions as everyone else, even if they’re different ones. But I’m also just as capable of goodness and light and compassion. I’m just as worthy of love and respect. I deserve my space in this world. I deserve to matter, and to not feel guilty about that. I deserve to extend myself the same forgiveness and grace that I (try to) offer other people. I deserve to feel happy. I deserve to feel. I deserve to pay attention to what I need, and to take time to refill or reset. I deserve the effort it takes to live a good life. I deserve life.

I deserve good things.

Just saying that still feels awfully uncomfortable, but as part of a concerted effort to emphasize positive thinking and weaken negative thought patterns, it’s important.

This seems to be something younger generations are getting a bit better at, but especially as emerging adults life can sometimes get so chaotic that it starts to slip away. Hopefully for each of us, that can begin to be less.

One last thing to add: As important as it is to allow and embrace the good, honest, human things we deserve, it’s just as important to turn that outward. Every person you interact with, every life you encounter, also deserves their chance. It really just comes down to the Golden Rule, and the reminder that it goes both directions.

What message have you been trying to remind yourself of lately? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

P.S. Normally I like these topics to be more focused on you who are reading it, but the whole point of the exercise is that it’s okay to turn positive attention inward; so both to demonstrate and to practice, it seemed best to keep the post as-is, with its many uses of “I” and all.

P.P.S. Though by no means the first people to emphasize this, the guys from Queer Eye (which I’ve been watching lately along with everyone else) provided the reminder I needed recently, and I wanted to credit that.

(Photo is a free stock photo because I haven’t been up early enough to catch this in a while.)